Teacher Pensions Blog

I was recently chatting with an education-sector friend who asked about good side jobs for teachers, and it gave me pause. I wasn’t put off by the question, per se. I had spent my own teaching years making extra cash with regular babysitting gigs, summer school classes, and a paid testing coordinator position. But when I actually stopped to think about it, the best second job for a teacher is no second job.

Teachers, no matter how new, shouldn’t need a side hustle to make ends meet.

But, conservatively (and without including summer work), 16 percent do.

Put simply, we don’t pay teachers enough. This is true by multiple measures. In 2015, American teachers’ earnings were 17 percent lower than comparable college-educated workers in other developed nations. There are countless factors tied up in this, gender included. The Teacher Salary Project has more, but that’s a whole other blog post. Or six. How do we make it better?

One solution? Pension reform. Right now, states pay, on average, $6,800 per teacher toward pension debt. These payments aren’t going to future benefits, but instead to pay down existing debts. If we compare those numbers to the amount teachers report earning through side hustles, teachers in at least 47 states and Washington D.C. would benefit (these states have at least some pension debt that’s costing teachers money) and of those, 26 (highlighted below) would out-earn their average side hustle. Without pension debts, states could raise salaries enough that teachers wouldn’t need to spend their free hours waitressing or driving for Uber.

* Maine and Ohio do not report debt separately

Pensions are often touted as a retention strategy. But in fact, studies show defined benefit plans do very little to entice new and mid-career teachers to stay, and only marginally push or pull veteran teachers’ decisions. It may be that a fair salary, one providing family sustainable wages, would be an even stronger retention strategy. To be sure, finances are not the first reason teachers cite for exiting, but in the most recent national survey, 18 percent of teachers who left the profession attributed their decision to financial reasons.

Teachers deserve to feel valued while they are on the job, not just in retirement. And if teachers are forced to take on second jobs to make ends meet, many may be pushed out of the profession before they qualify for a decent retirement benefit. Pension debts affect all teachers, but they’re paying for retirement systems that only benefit a fraction of them.